“A book,” according to the tormented writer Franz Kafka, “should be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us.”
I know what he’s talking about. A sea of ice — in the shape of a serious bout with depression – immobilized me as a writer and reader for much of last summer and fall.
I read several books a week, sometimes devouring one in a one-day orgy
of prose. But during this period I was lucky if I could get through a
few paragraphs before losing interest or attention.
I also had the worst case of writer’s block I’d ever experienced.
Writing my weekly column, “Chip on Your Shoulder” felt like trying to
break through that frozen sea with a teaspoon. Production ground to a
halt. I blew deadlines for two major projects.
caring and knowledgeable doctor, a combination of therapy, a powerful
daily pharmaceutical cocktail, and the love of friends, family and
understanding colleagues pulled me free from the darkness. I began
reading again and in January, I found myself itching to write.
after three years and more than 180 columns, I looked down into the
well of my experience and interests as a reporter, writer and teacher
and saw, or at least, believed, it had gone bone-dry. I thought I had
covered all the subjects that mattered to me and ones that readers had
asked me to address. I needed to try something new. I wanted to blog.
the mid-1990′s when the first blogs began to emerge, I had made several
abortive attempts to create one of my own. I missed access to the
printing press that a life in journalism had offered for two decades.
But I always ran into the roadblocks put up by my lack of
I needed help, so I told my editor, Julie Moos, an active blogger who has made it possible for many others to find their voice online, that I wanted to try again.
“Pull up a chair,” she said.
Within minutes, using TypePad,
a weblogging service that provides templates and an Internet hosting
service, Julie had assembled a home for a title I’d been harboring ever
since I heard Jacqui Banaszynski
talk during a seminar about two helpers that every writer needs: a
mechanic and a muse. Sitting there, I wrote down a book title,
“The Mechanic & The Muse,” that would be a kind of owner’s
manual for writers.” That was the name I told Julie I wanted for
“The Mechanic & The Muse”
was born on January 17. As of this morning, I’ve written more than 20
items and posted half of them. Many are long enough to be columns,
Julie points out, but I’d much rather be blogging. Here are seven
reasons I joined the millions who communicate through a form that
is part reverse diary, commonplace book and soapbox.
1. Blog items respond to a rapidly changing media landscape.
I like the way blogging lets me tackle multiple topics in a day or
through the week instead of focusing all my time and energy on one
weekly column. It’s the difference between being a beat specialist and
a general assignment reporter. I can write on subjects that draw my
attention. I’ve written about journalistic subjects and pointed readers
to repositories of stories that represent best practices. But I’ve also
written about fiction and memoir, two forms that are passions of mine.
Like Cream, the ’60′s mega-group, sings, “I feel free.”
2. When I blog, my standards are lowered, always a
key element in producing writing that can be revised, even after it’s
published. A blog, by its very nature, is more informal than a column
and less freighted with the expectations that a metro or sports column
can impose. Blogging hasn’t made me indifferent to revision or
accuracy; it just makes the process of generating words less
susceptible to the inner critic.
In a recent radio interview, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins talked about his art, and it helped me understand whly I like to blog.
“The real thrill is composition,” Collins said.
“To be kind of down on your hands and knees with the language at really
close range in the midst of a poem that is carrying you in some
direction that you can’t foresee… It’s that sense of ongoing
discovery that makes composition really thrilling and that’s the
pleasure and that’s why I write.”
3. I’m my own editorial board. As
a newspaper reporter, I was trained to keep my opinions out of my
stories. In a blog, I can be as opinionated as I want. Case in point: my no-holds-barred reaction to the James Frey-Oprah’s Book Club fiasco. I feel free to have an opinion and share it.
4. Change is vital. Wise editors realize that a
reporter can burn out on a beat and so they switch their assignments,
knowing that a fresh pair of eyes will benefit the writer and readers.
They feel free.
5. Blogs are not new, but they’re still on the leading edge of communication technology.
I’ve always been an early adopter and I don’t want to be left behind.
In a time when reporters and editors are blogging on their news
organization’s Web site, I feel free to be part of this experiment.
6. Let’s face it, a blog can also be a great marketing device.
I’ve posted examples of my own writing, some published and others that
have yet appeared in print, along with books I’ve written or
co-authored with links that make online purchasing a snap. Like most
writers, I harbor the dream that an agent or publisher may see
commercial possibilities in my work.
7. To paraphrase Kafka: my blog is the ice-axe that broke the frozen sea within me. It has helped me find myself again as a reader and writer. It has set me free.
doesn’t mean I won’t write columns ever again. Sometimes that space is
appropriate for interviews with writers (I’ve got one coming up next
week). So you can continue to check “Chip on Your Shoulder” and
can expect to receive new columns by e-mail if you’re subscribed.
I haven’t moved really. Blogging is like having an office but also
keeping a studio where you can experiment, take risks with your craft,
and share your discoveries with others.
You can guarantee immediate delivery of my blog postings by subscribing to “The Mechanic & The Muse.” Just paste http://poynter.blogs.com/the_mechanic_the_muse/atom.xml into the blog reader of your choice. Jon Dube’s plain-spoken guide to the subject is a great place to start. I use Bloglines.com to subscribe and keep track of the blogs I enjoy. Or you can just visit my blog by pointing your web browser to http://poynter.blogs.com/the_mechanic_the_muse/.
Some things won’t change. I’ll always and be grateful for comments,
questions, story suggestions, and most of all, your companionship.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article
described Kafka as a “German writer.” In fact, Kafka wrote in
German but was born in Prague.
So, why do you blog?